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Richard Brown (Hove, E.Sussex, UK)

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The Sparsholt Affair
The Sparsholt Affair
by Alan Hollinghurst
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

4.0 out of 5 stars The progress of time, 20 Oct. 2017
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This review is from: The Sparsholt Affair (Hardcover)
There is something cool, elegant, even a little detached about this novel, Hollinghurst's sixth, and when you try to hold the whole narrative in your mind, it resists being pinned down. Its surface shifts this way and that in time and tenor; its undercurrents move mysteriously; many key events occur off-stage and remain hazy; time shifts from one historical period to another, allowing you only a tentative footing before you're moved on to the next context; people age, disappear, reappear, over the span of the novel, which takes you from 1940s Oxford to clubbing in London, 2012. It takes a master of narrative art to hold all this together. Hollinghurst, one of our best contemporary novelist, pulls it off (almost). As he's a great literary stylist, one of the chief pleasures of this book is the quality of the prose, which is precise, deceptively straightforward, brilliant in its descriptive power. And there's a dry wit which runs through much of it - though perhaps with less astringency than one had come to expect from him, especially when the more 'innocent' characters are on stage (chiefly the book's main character, Johnny Sparsholt, and his young daughter Lucy).

The novel is structured into five parts, with a gap of roughly twenty years between each. It's a method he used in his previous novel 'The Stranger's Child' and thus inevitably invites obvious comparisons with that book. I think it's the lesser of the two, partly because Johnny is not sufficiently complex or interesting to be the centre of the book, and partly, I guess, because Hollinghurst is more interested in literary history, which he explored so effectively in 'The Stranger's Child', than he is in the commercial world of portrait painting, which becomes a central motif of this book. Less seems to be at stake here than in the previous novel.

In a Guardian interview (23.09.2017) Hollinghurst says he'd like to write a novella, surprising given how his creative mind seems to need a wide canvas to include all that strikes him as relevant and important. In a sense, he's achieved at least five linked short stories here, the best one probably being the first; it sits at an angle to the rest. It's written as a diary by Freddie, a student at Oxford, one of a circle of undergraduates about to be called up to fight in the war, who include key characters in the novel, chief among them David Sparsholt and Evert Dix. David is beautiful, charismatic, impecunious, ambivalent sexually; he is a catalyst for desire. Evert forms a crush on him, and much of the narrative concerns his yearning for sex. In contrast, Freddie is pursuing a tepid, sexless courtship with Jill, who might be lesbian. There's comedy too in a satirical portrait of a popular, pompous novelist, Evert's father, whom Hollinghurst skewers hilariously. (Who was he modelled on? Charles Morgan, perhaps?) Hollinghust captures the mood of the time here, youthful desire checked at every turn, relationships forming against a dark background of war and dislocation, the restrictive mores of sex and courtship acting like blinkers, keeping the characters in a state of ignorance about each other.

Unrequited desire is a central theme of the first three parts. In the sunny second part, the point of view shifts to David, his wife Connie and, chiefly, their teenage son Johnny. On a family trip to Cornwall, Johnny has his first big gay crush on Bastien, a French exchange student staying with them, but Bastien, alas, has eyes only for girls (an echo of Evert's desire for David). David, meanwhile, is acting evasively with a neighbour, Clifford Haxby, a relationship which will have an explosive, but off-stage, effect later - one which is never to be spelled out.

In the third section, Johnny is now in his early twenties and is working in London in a picture restorers, having been to art college, hoping to become a painter. It's the 1970s, time of the three-day week, the blackouts, the miners' strikes, but also a time of liberation for gay men. Taking a small restored oil painting to Evert's house, he is introduced into the circle we met at Oxford, now middle-aged men, who are intrigued that here's the son of the beautiful but scandalous David Sparsholt. At the house he meets and falls for Ivan, who lives with Evert in an ambiguous relationship; it's another largely unrequited affair, as Ivan is into older men; though they achieve some kind of intimacy when they stay in a rundown old house in remotest Wales. Johnny is commissioned to paint a double portrait of a lesbian couple, who want him to donate his sperm so that they can have a child. Johnny enters the gay clubbing scene - a time Hollinghurst must remember well because he describes it with such fidelity - a time before the onset of AIDs which destroyed so much of it.

Much of the fourth section is told again through an innocent's' eyes, this time Lucy's, Johnny's daughter by the lesbians; she comes to stay with him from time to time. By shifting the point of view not just in time and circumstance but in the nature of the viewer, Hollinghurst is able to refresh the novel, coming at it from a different angle. Johnny is now a successful middle-aged portrait painter, living with his partner Pat. Some of the old circle gather at Freddie's funeral. Evert is a forgetful old man now, looked after by Ivan. The set piece of this section is a reunion after forty years of Evert and David. This is not the emotional high-point you'd expect, however, and much of it happens off-stage. A more interesting encounter is with David and Johnny over lunch in a club. David has remained buttoned up, mysterious, vaguely irresponsible, hard to pin down throughout the novel, but here we finally get a glimpse of the man he has become. As a hero of the book, he fails. The scandal involving Haxby, a government minister, rent boys, etc is there in the background but Hollinghurst deliberately keeps it all vague (an amalgam of the Porson corruption scandal and the Profumo affair, presumably). He may be physically attractive, even in old age, but has little else going for him. This section highlights how Hollinghust pulls back from potentially emotionally charged scenes, a risky strategy, but one which expresses how emotionally distant men of a certain age and era can be.

The fifth section brings us to the almost present. Johnny, aged about 60, a widower, is learning the new arts of instant dating apps, casual one-nighters, the clubbing scene again, drugs - its like a second adolescence for him and he rather revels in it. He's working on a large portrait of the family of a well-know TV host, conscious that though his work is highly respected, he never really made it as a significant artist, but he doesn't seem to care much about this. Giving us a conventional happy ending, Hollinghurst allows Johnny a late romance with a Brazilian guy much younger than himself (intergenerational sex is a sub-theme throughout), suggesting he won't end up on his own. I liked this section, brief as it is, almost as much as the first, it's sexy and contemporary, and it displays how good Hollinghurst is at capturing the zeitgeist of any particular time.

On the debit side, Jonny's a modest, unassuming man to the last, likeable but rather shallow and colourless. He strikes me as being too ordinary a character to hang the novel on. Another weakness is that so much happens off-stage, in between the sections as well as in them, that the reader is at times left guessing too much. It's a distancing effect, good when it works well - as a way of actively engaging the reader in the creation of narrative lines - irritating when it fails to supply the information you desire. The narrative line lacks any real drama or emotional urgency; the passion lies well under the surface; their are no real high points or epiphanies. On the question of sex, there's gay sex but it's muted or, in the early sections, elided, as in an old-fashioned novel; elsewhere, there are some fine passages of sexual intimacy, notably between Johnny and Evert at one point (but gone are the days of graphic sex, as in 'The Swimming Pool Library') Perhaps, as one of his characters says, for Hollinghurst sex becomes less important as you age. Or he feels he's done all that in previous novels.

On the credit side, this is a sophisticated look at a network of significant relationships over time, viewed from several different viewpoints. It's a rich canvas, full of evocative scenes and places - Hollinghurst's eye for telling detail is extraordinary, almost painterly. Scenes and people linger in the mind, as after a particularly vivid dream. It has wit and atmosphere and style. And the layered effect of the method allows him to create a complex web of links between time and character, where sections echo one another in different voices and themes re-emerge in different contexts.

In addition, the novel is part of a much larger novelistic enterprise in which the author is patiently excavating aspects of the history of gay life in the UK in the last hundred years or so, showing us how gay relationships shaped and penetrated culture, shaped and penetrated the life-chances of so many men in all walks of life. This is his true subject, and there are few are other authors who can do it (Patrick Gale is, perhaps, his only equal in this respect).

I liked rather than loved this novel; it kept me fully engaged; inspired great respect for his art, his perceptions, his intentions; and I would recommend it.


The Story of Henri Tod
The Story of Henri Tod
by William F. Buckley
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping Cold War thriller, 10 Oct. 2017
This review is from: The Story of Henri Tod (Paperback)
This is a tense political thriller, written back in the early 1980s, that deals with espionage and power-structures leading up to the construction of the Berlin Wall separating East from West Berlin. It's written in a hard-boiled, economic style, has a complex plot, and weaves fictional characters, events and situations into established history - including scenes in the offices of Walter Ulbricht, President of East Germany, and in the White House, President Kennedy himself musing on events.

The hero, Henri Todd, has a tragic Jewish wartime backstory which helps explain his mission and his approach. He's head of an anti-Communist movement of young freedom fighters, dedicated to thwarting East Germany's desire to cut off the West. Working alongside him is Blackford Oakes, a CIA operative. Working against him is the KGB and the East German police. We also get to know - and love - an East German couple who care for him when he's wounded and on the run; one of them is a valuable mole. What happens to these four is what we most care about. And what happens one the larger political stage, West against Communism in the Cold War, is more than an exciting backdrop to our heroes' fate. An excellent, gripping read.


The Night Ocean
The Night Ocean
by Paul LaFarge
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.37

5.0 out of 5 stars A tricksy novel full of unreliable narrators, 1 Oct. 2017
This review is from: The Night Ocean (Hardcover)
I knew nothing about the author of this intriguing and absorbing, this very complicated and smart novel, nor much about H.P. Lovecraft, the American horror writer, but a quick dip into the prose style suggested this was the book for me. I love novels about writers, one's where a researcher is trying to track down mysteries within the writer's life or their books, and this one abounds with them. You don't have to be a fan of Lovecraft, though it helps, nor of early American science-fiction, though that would help too. But you do need to be willing to follow a literary trail which will fool you several times, will lead you into cul-de-sacs, will have you doubling back to relook at a view which, once familiar, now seems very different in the light of new knowledge. It's a narrative with several unreliable narrators, which keeps you guessing right to the end - one big trickster tease, done with serious intent, and hugely enjoyable.

The question: What is the truth of what we are reading? is at the centre of this book. And there are two levels to that: What is established biographical fact? - La Farge draws heavily on literary history. And what can we believe of what we are being told at the fictional level? In other words, the author engages you dynamically, makes you work hard without you fully realising it. And he does so with a rich, fluent, intelligent, literary, style, which is a joy in itself.

One should not give away much of the plot of such books, since so much of the pleasure one gains from it is based on revelations, the unfolding, and fabricating, of secrets and hidden histories. Suffice to say, Lovecraft, in middle-age, lived for a few weeks with a 16 year old fan called Robert Barlow; their relationship may or may not have been gay, the secrets of which were later, apparently, revealed in a posthumous diary. Barlow, who later became a professor of anthropology in Mexico, attracted the ire of the posthumous Lovecraft's fan base, including many sci-fi and fantasy writers who later became famous, hence his flight to Mexico. That's one complicated thread. Another concerns a character called LC Spinks, who might be the true author of this 'scandalous' diary - in the final half of the book we are on his trail, he might provide the key to it all. I understand these characters are well documented.

The fictional ones - Charlie Willett and his psychotherapist wife Marina (who, rather improbably given the sophistication of the narrative, is the narrator of the whole book) take our hand and leads us through this maze, in the present. Charlie gets obsessed with Lovecraft; he goes public on what he thinks he's discovered about the Lovecraft/Barlow relationship, is briefly feted for it, and then gets hit by a scandal. He disappears, presumed to have drowned himself. Marina sets out to find out what lay behind this apparent suicide, taking up the story where Charlie left off. It leads her to LC Spinks...

Around this tortuous plot La Farge weaves his ingenious novel, and even though it's perhaps too long, and in the end does not amount to anything very profound, he never lets you off the hook. Great stuff.


John Minton: A Centenary
John Minton: A Centenary
by Simon Martin
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for Minton fans, 13 Sept. 2017
In the summer of 2017 Pallant House Gallery in Chichester mounted a wonderful exhibition of a representative selection of John Minton's art - drawings, paintings, illustrations and book jackets - and this is the generously illustrated catalogue which accompanied it. The exhibition marked the centenary of Minton's birth, the 60th anniversary of his untimely death in 1957 by suicide aged 39 - and, incidentally, Minton being gay, the 50th anniversary of the partial legalisation of male homosexuality in England. In the 1940s and '50s he was perhaps best known to the general public through his illustrations for books and magazines, creating a distinctive style which is now redolent of that era; but he was also - as the curator, Simon Martin points out in a useful initial overview of his career - "a central figure within the mid-century flowering of Romanticism, producing images suffused with a poetic sense of yearning." His work was largely figurative and pictorial in an age when America Expressionism and British abstract art, spearheaded by Ben Nicholson, was becoming ascendant. As his form of art tended to fall out of favour in the Fifties, his career faltered, perhaps contributing to his suicide. Since his death, exhibitions of his work have been few and far between.

The exhibition, and the catalogue, give a sense of how his all too brief career changed and developed. There are four chapter, two by Frances Spalding, who wrote the definitive biography of Minton 20 or so years ago, and two by the curator. Because there are two authors, there is a certain amount of overlap and repetition, which is a pity. In addition, there are two comic stories by Minton, and a lecture he gave in 1952 giving insights into his method of working and his view of the contemporary art scene. Of course, for me, having seen the exhibition, the chief attraction of this monograph are the illustrations which reproduce all the exhibits, generously, in colour where appropriate; their full details are listed, and there's a bibliography of further reading. Where else can you lay your hands on such a gathering of Minton images and information?

The exhibition, and thus the catalogue, tends to fall into distinct phases. There are the sepia and black and white drawings reminiscent of Samuel Palmer; landscapes with figures that bring to mind Dali and De Chirico; other landscapes with figures that remind me of Graham Sutherland and Christopher Wood; townscapes that are very much his own, bold and primitive; some exquisite figurative work ('The Hop Pickers' being my favourite), suffused with a poetic homo-eroticism; and there's the illustrative work. He was often restless, looking for distraction abroad; and in addition there are the semi-abstract scenes and still-lives and figurative work, reflecting other cultures, Corsica and Spain. He went to Jamaica and produced some richly textured work, including 'Jamaican Village', a huge picture (not done justice in the catalogue). My favourite group are the portraits of young men, mostly of friends and lovers, most of whom sit in the same Oxford chair; these are beautiful, melancholy, revealing, and subtly erotic. Minton, who was not comfortable with his sexuality, hardly ever painted full-on male nudes, his sexuality remained largely hidden off-canvas; whether this was an artistic decision or one dictated by the closet, we can't be sure; perhaps both. My least favourite are the large, historical and religious paintings he attempted at the end of his career, which swam against the tide of the time and puzzled his students and admirers; but they have a certain monumentality and may become more fashionable as tastes change.

The catalogue allows you to follow this trail through his short and impressive career. A must for Minton fans.


Collected Poems
Collected Poems
by Carol Ann Duffy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.54

5.0 out of 5 stars A rich and impressive collection, 11 Sept. 2017
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This review is from: Collected Poems (Hardcover)
It's wonderful to have Duffy's poems from a long and distinguished career gathered in one sumptuous and beautifully presented book. I discovered, among the familiar and the popular, many poems new to me. It's good to have the whole arc of her oeuvre at hand to get a sense of a major poet developing over time, shifting her style and focus and tone while retaining a strong individual voice, one well tuned to modern sensibilities. As a poet, I learnt much from this book about the importance of storytelling and economy of style and the use of apposite but arresting images, as well as finding the right tone and underlying feeling for the poem's subject matter (though she does perhaps over use the image of the moon!). A rich and impressive collection, not to be missed by any poet lover.


Rick Day Bel Ami
Rick Day Bel Ami
by Rick Day
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £97.91

5.0 out of 5 stars The art of the young gay male nude, 11 Sept. 2017
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This review is from: Rick Day Bel Ami (Hardcover)
A sumptuous and beautiful coffee table book full of Bel Ami beauties. The quality of the photographic reproductions is superb, as are the models.


Dark Summer in Bordeaux
Dark Summer in Bordeaux
by Allan Massie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A literary thriller, part two of a four-book series, 11 Sept. 2017
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This is a continuation of the first book in this series, 'Death in Bordeaux', starring Superintendent Lannes, set during the first year of the Occupation in 1940-41. Where the first book was rather dour, gloomy even, in its general atmosphere, and was more of a who-done-it than a literary novel, this one is the other way round, lighter in tone, more concerned with the development of character than with the solving of a murder, and is all the better for that. I felt Massie had got into his stride with this one, knew his characters better. As Robert Harris has said, in these classy novels - and I couldn't put this one down - Massie has found a way to make a thriller a literary novel.

The action is triggered when a retired professor is found murdered in a park. Lannes and his two man team are on the case, and the trail of clues, as in the previous novel, leads him into some murky areas in the criminal and political world as well as into the sleazy world of prostitution. There are several shady players, all with their sphere of influence or menace, and several layers of obstructive authorities within both the German and French law enforcement institutions. As in the previous novel, he is heavily leaned upon by his superiors, all guarding their backs, to get the result they want to satisfy their superiors; and this sense of him trying to juggle several competing demands is very effective, adding to the high suspense of the action. Lannes has his own code of honour, and the compromises he is forced to make to protect his own family and friends, often pains him; he is an admirable man, if unassuming, worn down by his life and undermined by a rocky marriage. He finds himself tempted by a relationship with Leon's mother and by the seductions of a prostitute.

One of the attractive elements of this novel is the number and variety of young people in the cast, several of whom are gay or bisexual. Leon, who is secretly in love with Lannes's son Alain (straight), finds himself caught up in a nasty situation involving a German officer who has fallen in love with him, including blackmail and rape. There's Jerome, son of a wealthy family, who might be in love with Leon. There's Clothilde, Lannes's teenage daughter, who flirts first with a young German soldier and then with a sexy blond whom Lannes knows is suspect. Alain, Jerome and Leon indulge in some minor and youthful anti-German propaganda, before planning their escape to join De Gaulle in England.

A complicated, intelligent, absorbing, well-written novel of suspense and character. Can't wait for the next two volumes.


The Essential Gay Mystics (Essential (Booksales))
The Essential Gay Mystics (Essential (Booksales))
by Andrew Harvey
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Sex and the divine, 4 Sept. 2017
As an atheist, shaped by twentieth century scientific materialism, deeply suspicious of the way the great religions shape and trammel the human spirit to perpetuate their own restrictive structures, this book might not seem, on the surface, to hold much attraction for me. But we are all complex beings, with many strands to our natures; it appealed because as a gay man I am interested in the gay literary, religious and historical traditions, as seen through the prisms of many cultures and eras; because I am also a poet looking for inspiration and ideas in this realm; and as a reader looking to extend my horizons. There was much in this fascinating and ground breaking anthology to hold my attention - and, incidentally, it did spark off several poems of my own, making me reconsider the relationship between the numinous and the body, between spirit and sex, between the erotic and the divine.

Harvey's wide experience in both academic institutions here, in the USA and elsewhere, and his roots in eastern religions, make him well qualified to put together an anthology of this kind. The scope is as wide as you could wish it - from the Ancient Greeks and Romans, through the Native American tradition, from ancient writers in the Far East, through Sufism to the Renaissance, and on into the 19th and 20th centuries; each is represented by brief prose extracts or poetry in an attempt to capture some of the ideas of the leading writers in the field. These ideas, as Harvey's perhaps rather over-stated Introduction suggests, are variations on the relationship between the body and the sense of another world, of a spiritual source or ideas about the divine, how they fuse, often through sexual union and the apprehension of physical beauty. Not all the contributions are obvious in this respect, and I was left occasionally wondering why certain passages were included, but in general Harvey has assembled an impressive collection of writings. Some are by writers now overlooked or barely published, ripe for exposure. The language of many of the pieces, perhaps the majority, is, by modern western standards, lush, romantic, overblown, lacking in irony or proportion - which requires of readers such as myself, steeped in 20th century literature and poetry, a reset of taste. At first, that was difficult, but in the end it was refreshing, and perhaps essential for the enterprise.

Apart from being a rich source to dip into, I can see this anthology being of great educational use, not just to scholars looking to extend their knowledge of the gay tradition in world literature, but for groups wishing to discuss together the profound religious ideas it contains. The interface between religious belief and sexual desire is a fraught one, and has ever been so - it's an aspect of the battle between freedom and control of the human spirit - but so many of the pieces here demonstrate how the two can come together and create a deepening sense of personal liberation and affirmation.


Cast in Doubt
Cast in Doubt
by Lynne Tillman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Female writer, gay male persona, 28 Aug. 2017
This review is from: Cast in Doubt (Paperback)
Female writers inhabiting the persona of a gay male, as in this elegant novel, take on a particular challenge, especially when the reader is a gay male, as I am, but Tillman effortlessly takes on the voice, the consciousness, of an aging gay writer, so that we soon forget it's her writing this book, not it's first-person protagonist, Horace. He is an expatriate American novelist in his sixties, living in Crete, writing crime fiction and trying to finish a literary novel. He lives with a younger man, though this relationship is rather emotionless and perfunctory, with little eroticism on display, and the boyfriend remains, unsatisfactorily to my mind, a minor character. In fact, it is the female characters both Horace and Tillman are most engaged with.

There's Alicia, a good friend, rather vague, a settler too. There's Grace, a black American, his closest friend, who has a mysterious life we are not privy too, who maybe going through her own difficulties off-page - this is a fine portrait of a friendship that crosses the divides of race, gender and sexuality. And there's Helen, the most mysterious of the three. She's a young free-spirit; she has moved into an apartment, from the balcony of which she can wave to Horace. They become friends. But who is she? Why is she here on her own? Are the rumours about her wild sexual behaviour true? And when she disappears (about half way through the book), has she really gone to join the Gypsies? The latter is not so clichéd as it sounds - Crete has a large community of Gypsies, apparently.

Horace goes off in search of her and has some interesting encounters with the Gypsies. One seems promising - Ramon, a beautiful young man who excites his attentions, but, inexplicably - this is so like the vacillating, hesitant, vague Horace - he turns down the boy's desire to accompany him and then pines for him thereafter. Horace is also attracted to an ex of Helen's, a beautiful young man called John, but again this desire peters out, left untested. These incidents mark the difference between a gay male writer, who would probably have exploited their romantic possibilities, and the (presumably) straight female author, who looks elsewhere. Or maybe the author is pointing up Horace's self-love, which is stronger than his sexual desires for younger men.

But in a sense that's Tillman's method. She sets up situation such as with Ramon, with Helen, but does not pursue them to their expected end, subverting the form for something else. Some will find this a more subtle and complex approach; I found it a little disappointing, which is why I give the novel four stars. For instance, we never do find out what happens to Helen; but we are let into some of her dark secrets, without them having much of an explanation.

The whole narrative is expressed through Horace's highly literate, amusing, self-regarding, journal: it's his voice and no one else's. He writes with clarity and insight, sardonically at times - especially about his fellow gay expatriate Roger whom he despises for the most part - and often veers off into a kind of stream of consciousness, meditative, almost poetical at times. The style is one of the novel's main attractions, perhaps. I wanted more drama, more suspense, more resolution, but that's a personal taste.


Death in Bordeaux
Death in Bordeaux
by Allan Massie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.69

4.0 out of 5 stars A modern historical novel as well as a crime novel, 22 Aug. 2017
This review is from: Death in Bordeaux (Paperback)
Learning that this book is the first of a projected trilogy (extended now to a fourth volume) I ordered the second part, a good enough testament to the pleasure this intelligent historical crime novel gave me. I'm not a fan of crime novels, mainly because the characterisation in them is often so thin, but that was not the case here; in a literary sense, this is a good novel. It certainly evokes the first stages of the war in France and the occupation by the Nazis, a brief 'phoney war' period before the Nazis revealed their true colours and the Resistance formed.

One of the themes of the book is to what extent one should tolerate or resist the occupying forces, the nature of collaboration. Another is the divide between the generations, the young here limbering up either to resist or assist, the old either sucking up to the enemy, or trying to tread a fine line to preserve some kind of national honour, or else keeping their heads down and grumbling in the privacy of their homes. Such choices are forced upon everyone in such situations. Lannes, the middle-aged detective and family man at the centre of this book, tries to tread a fine line, to uphold the rule of law despite it being undermined by the German occupation, but in the end has to buckle in the interests of his family and his own safety.

What starts out as an early example of the worst sort of hate crime, a gay killing, ripples out into a complex web involving several deaths, political interests, blackmail, attempted murder, etc. Lannes has to work against pressure within and without his jurisdiction to give up on the case. He's partly reluctant to do so because the first murder victim was a friend, and another was the friend's sister-in-law. Although he's dogged, obstinate, courageous, committed to his job and to justice, and gains the respect even of his enemies, he's a rather dour figure, addicted to coffee and cigarettes, dog tired for most of the time, weary of life. But a good family man and boss. The rest of his family are only sketched in, his wife in particular presented as a rather pathetic figure.

Of particular interest to me as a gay reader is the number of gay characters in this story. Not just the first victim, but a young friend of his, Leon, and others. Routinely, seen from a heterosexual point of view, their sexual activities are seen as 'disgusting' - an overused word in this book, which, I suppose, was the standard reaction of the time, though a bit hard to take now. But at least Leon is a sympathetic character, one we care about.

It's well written, page-turning, interesting, if not entirely gripping, as much a modern historical novel as a crime one and all the better for that. It has to be said that the text is littered with proof-reading errors, but I got used to that - it's not worth getting irritated by them. Production values - nice paper and cover with flaps - are good, the typeface easy on the eye, the book a pleasure to hold and own. I look forward to reading the next volume.


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